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Re: [xmca] Citing and Slighting

As a former, and I guess also current though not very active, journal editor, and not having read the MCA editorial against name-dropping yet, I would have to agree in general that a lot of social sciences journals in the US seem to have rather peculiar notions of what and when a citation is needed.

In general I think citations wind up being what they are as a balance, not to say a negotiated peace settlement, among opposing forces.

Authors with a lot of experience in publishing and academic politics tend to cite defensively (as is sometimes done in the natural sciences): weigh in with all the works and big name people that support your point of view, and head off possible criticism by citing everything that might be considered relevant by any reviewer or critic of your ideas. The former seems to be more Anglo-US and the latter more Germanic, but they often get combined. The result is way more citations than most readers have the patience for, or most publishers want to pay for the paper to print.

Reviewers always want more citations, not fewer. And responses to their criticisms, if made in the text of the manuscript, usually require added citations. Editors on the other hand are looking for fewer, both as agents of the beleagured reader and agents (or victims) of the profit-hungry publisher.

So on one side there is maximal citation: everything that anyone could possibly consider relevant. On the other, minimal citation: only those that absolutely cannot be done without. As many will know, French tradition tends to be minimalist, often including no citations, only allusions for the cognoscenti, on the theory that if you have to ask for the citation, you are not really a qualified reader.

And there lies a further tension: do we cite for the expert reader? or to make our work more accessible to a wider readership?

In the natural sciences the conventions are pretty well worked out. You cite two or three items at the beginning to place the new work in its narrowest specialist context of prior work, to define the purpose of doing it in the first place. You can also include a couple items of your own prior work at this point since you've probably been working on similar issues for the last few years. You are citing only for other expert specialists in a very narrow field. You then make one or two cites on methodology, generally referring to specialist techniques that have been applied in similar research. No citing as you describe what you did and what you found. At the end, regarding interpretation, which means the contribution of the present work to theory or standing issues in the field, you might cite someone you disagree with to say how your data shows that they are wrong and you are right. Minimalist, expert oriented, grounded in consensus models of research and narrow specializations.

Every step away from this model adds to the number of citations. In the social sciences it is usually necessary to clue readers in to the conceptual framework you are using, the historical ancestors who are the conventional reference points for the approach and philosophy of the research, the more recent research on similar topics that you are in dialogue with, the work that describes and justifies the use of particular broad methodologies, your own prior relevant work and that of your friends (optional) and mentors (required politically), everyone else who has produced data or theory on the same topic, and everyone whose interpretations and conclusions in the area you agree or disagree with. What this model generates are dissertations, not articles or book chapters.

The conventional rules that are taught are of little real help: cite the evidentiary basis for every empirical claim (like a two-column geometry proof?), cite every work you quote from (verbatim, with page numbers) or paraphrase (a descendant of biblical exegesis?).

In the age of Google, readers who want to find background information to inform the reading of a text can do so without many of the formal citations of yore.

Among intellectuals who detest the commodification of knowledge and the Great Man theory of "credit" for knowledge production, many justifications for citation appear more political than scientific. 

As an editor and a reader I want a citation when:

You refer to and rely on someone else's work that, even as a knowledgeable researcher in the discipline, I am unlikely to be familiar with

You claim that someone holds a position that s/he is not widely acknowledged to hold (or in fact does not hold, so far as I am concerned!)

Otherwise, I appreciate a couple of early citations to place your work in some intellectual-philosophical-theoretical tradition, just to save me the trouble of having to figure it out for myself from reading the whole piece and then having to go back to the beginning again.

Deft citation is more art than procedure. It's a feature of writerly style, based in a kind of habitus acquired in a field over time, and so a species of cultural capital which is probably not transferable.

Can editors really say anything useful beyond Cite More or Cite Less? Maybe.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Jun 10, 2010, at 7:20 AM, mike cole wrote:

> You will be pleased to know that Eugene has an extensive critique of our
> editorial in an upcoming issue of mca.
> mike
> On Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 7:00 AM, Michael Glassman <MGlassman@ehe.osu.edu>wrote:
>> Hi David,
>> I haven't read the editorial but I have to agree with you that "name
>> dropping" is one of the more bizarre editorial critiques I have come across.
>> It reminds of of one of my favorite movie scenes from Amadeus in which
>> after one of his first operas Mozart asks the Franz Joseph how he liked the
>> music.  Fran Joseph says that well it was all right but there were problems.
>> Mozart asks what poblems.  And Franz Joseph says that well, there were too
>> many notes.  To which Mozart states that there were just as many notes as
>> needed, no more and no less.
>> Generally this is true of citations I think.  Of course you should refrain
>> from citing yourself unless necessary, or friends - but otherwise - WTH?
>> I've been doing some research on hyperlinks lately - and their history is
>> that they are meant to function a great deal like citations - but in many
>> ways citations don't only represent origination of information source but
>> also associations - that these works offer associations and trails of ideas
>> - when we write we are not only attempting to talk about a new idea but also
>> pull together a web of information and integrate what we are writing into
>> that web. This is both the author's responsibility but also the author's
>> perogative.
>> The couple of times I have gotten the name dropping critique (never
>> explained or expanded upon) it has always struck me as the reviewer waving
>> his hand in the air and saying "too many citations."
>> Michael
>> ________________________________
>> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of David Kellogg
>> Sent: Thu 6/10/2010 3:56 AM
>> To: xmca
>> Subject: [xmca] Citing and Slighting
>> I just read Mike (Cole's) and Wolff-Michael (Roth's) editorial "The
>> referencing practices of Mind, Culture, and Activity: On citing (sighting?)
>> and being (sighted?)" with what I must confess is a mild dose of that most
>> unworthy emotion, irritation. I will try to compensate for it with generous
>> glop of humor, but I imagine some of this must be at the expense of the
>> authors.
>> For those of you with no access to the article, I summarize. Michael and
>> Michael hector prospective writers, in the name of the readers, about
>> unnecessary citations which they consider "name dropping" and resume
>> stuffing moves. We are given an amusing assortment of examples of this, not
>> only as examples of bad practices, but in the editorial itself, for example
>> when an overenthusiastic citation of Ilyenkov makes it appear that he is
>> entirely responsible for the dialectical materialist account of modern
>> science and poor Bakhtin is dragged in by the ears to make a completely
>> uncontested point about monologism and dialogism (even more amusingly, the
>> title of Bakhtin's book "Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics" is given
>> incorrectly).
>> What the editorial really LACKS is any explanation for this lamentable
>> phenomenon beyond blaming the victims. As an author myself, I can assure the
>> editors that it is not, in general, my own name that I drop or my own resume
>> that I stuff. Why, then, do I do it?
>> Well, anybody who reads Wolff-Michael's editorials on a regular basis may
>> notice that we are often enjoined to cite MCA for no other reason than to
>> increase the journal's impact factor. And anybody who has access to my
>> voluminous collection of MCA rejection slips will notice that one of the
>> most common reasons for rejection is that the citations are incomplete.
>> As the authors say, this problem is by no means confined to MCA; I can name
>> half a dozen journals where my articles were ONLY published after the
>> insertion of references that I have very good reason to suspect were to the
>> work of the reviewers. I must say, though, that MCA is better than their
>> word on this: in general, my rejections do NOT say "revise and resubmit with
>> more references"--they tend to say "Don't bother, kid. You're not in our
>> league!"
>> I paraphrase, of course. But I could certainly quote and cite.
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
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